The compact sedan makes a very good case for itself. It is under 4-metre in length making it easy to park and convenient to live with in the city. And because it competes with hatchbacks, it is also efficient and priced very well, particularly for a sedan. Of course, the excise duty sop helps with the pricing.
The best option in this class for the longest time was the Dzire. And, for good reason. It looked modern, it had a nice interior, it wasn't short on equipment, and being a Maruti, it had a huge service network backing it. No wonder, it sold extremely well; it still does in fact. The Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire is the best selling sedan in the country currently.
Then came the Honda Amaze, and it offered more space, a bigger, more powerful and more fuel efficient engine, and of course, higher snob value with that Honda badge on its nose. It too found a good fan following, but naturally with a smaller network, it hasn't been able to sell in as high numbers as the Dzire.
Now, we have a third entrant. It is backed by a huge service network like the Dzire. It's spacious, and though it doesn't have a large and powerful engine, it is efficient. And surprisingly, it’s quite driveable too. Its biggest selling point however, is the feature list it comes with as standard. It is the new Hyundai Xcent, the Korean firm's first attempt at a sub 4-metre sedan. And going by what we have seen so far, it is a very good attempt.
But, is it good enough to beat the Dzire and the Amaze? To find out we have with us top of the line diesel versions of the three cars - The Hyundai Xcent SX Crdi, the Honda Amaze VX iDtec and the Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire Zdi.
Well, if design is a big consideration for you, the Xcent makes sense; at least in parts. It looks exactly like the Grand i10 hatchback it is based on from the front giving it a modern yet elegant aura. Even from the side, the boot gels well with the overall proportions of the car and there’s nothing odd-ball about its design. The rear though, isn’t as impressive; we found the tail lamps to be a bit undefined.
Inside, the Hyundai Xcent resembles the Grand i10 all the way, with the only difference being the addition of the climate control system instead of a manual HVAC unit the latter comes with. But, that's not a bad thing, because it is a nice looking, well executed and thoughtfully designed interior. Most things are where you expect them to be. It has convenient stowage areas, usable cup and bottle holders, front and back, class leading build quality, and the look and feel of plastic all round, again is quite upmarket for its class.
The seats are comfy, the driving position feels right and the visibility isn't a problem even in chock-a-block traffic. Equipment wise, there is a multi-functional steering wheel and climate control on the convenience end and two airbags and ABS brakes on the safety side. What it also has is a reversing camera, a cooled glovebox and Bluetooth telephony which are all missing on the Amaze and the Dzire both. The Xcent is also the only compact sedan to offer rear AC vents; a boon really in the sort of heat we are experiencing these days.
The Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire, which is more expensive than the Xcent gets less equipment. It is also not half as nice looking as the Hyundai; its long hood and stubby boot being the culprits here. But, the Dzire does manage to score over the Amaze in terms of equipment. It gets a digital climate control system which the Honda doesn't. But this apart, the two are equally matched. The Maruti, however, has a better executed interior. It might not feel as plush as the Xcent's, but it certainly looks better than the Amaze. Where the plastics on the Amaze - take the ones around the AC vents or the door armrest - look hard wearing and low key, the Dzire with its faux wood inserts, the textured plastic and the better fit overall, comes across as the more expensive car. But, of course, you pay less for it.
But, once seated, the Amaze immediately comes across as the better designed car; more in terms of engineering than outright looks (though the Amaze does look much better than the Dzire on the outside). The space utilisation is way better on the Honda; the seats are more thoughtfully designed; and unlike the Dzire wherein the rear passengers might feel hemmed in, the Amaze has this sense of airiness to its cabin, which even the Xcent can't match. In fact, the Honda Amaze is the most spacious car in this test. And even though, it has a minutely smaller boot than the Xcent, in terms of usability, it is very much at par.
Not just that, the Honda Amaze has the biggest, most powerful diesel engine in this test too. Surprisingly, it is also the most fuel efficient. The 1.5-litre, four cylinder, all aluminium engine makes 100PS of max power which helps it accelerate to 100kmph from a standstill in under 13 seconds. Honda has however limited the top speed of the Amaze to just 145kmph. In terms of driving, the Amaze has the sharpest, best judged throttle response, the least amount of turbo lag and the gear shift quality though a tad notchy, is precise. The clutch pedal action is light and progressive too. The biggest downside to the Amaze's engine is the noise and vibration. It's the loudest in this test and borders on being harsh.
The Xcent has the smallest engine in this class - a 1.1-litre, three cylinder diesel. Not surprisingly, it is also the least powerful and with it, the slowest off the line in the real world. It's not an engine that likes to be hurried into things, and if you try, it involves too much shifting of gears. This, by the way, isn’t such a problem because the Xcent has a light and progressive clutch and effortless gear shift quality. The Xcent might have the smallest engine, but it also has the quietest cabin. And the engine noise, unlike the Amaze, never really gets to you. Moreover, the Xcent has a higher top speed, and even when driven in three digit figures, the wind, road and engine noise is the least in the Hyundai which actually disguises the sense of speed better than the other two cars.
The Dzire is more powerful than the Xcent. It has a bigger engine too - a 1.3-litre, four cylinder engine from Fiat. There isn't a lot of difference in the power and torque figures of the Xcent and the Dzire on paper. But, on the road, especially on a route with elevation changes, the Dzire feels more potent and alive. It is noisier, but it is also more responsive; after you get over the turbo lag, of course. The shifts for the 5-speed manual are short and sharp, and the clutch operation, as light if not as progressive as the other two cars. Our only problem, if any, with the Dzire's engine (like on the Honda but not to that extent) is its noisy nature.
A powerful, eager engine demands good dynamics. This statement makes no sense here because none of these engines can be termed as powerful or eager. Even so, both the Amaze and the Dzire impress with their dynamic ability. The Dzire more so, which is mainly down to the tyres. Like the Dzire, the Amaze feels agile and willing. It will make quick direction changes without upsetting itself and trace a line around a bend obediently. But, just don't pick up the pace too much. Because if you do, the 175 section tyres will let go leaving you to battle understeer into corner entries and wheelspins on exits as the car struggles to put the power down effectively; all the while making irritating squealing noises.
The Dzire tyres are better; at least these are wider. But, these run out of grip sooner than their 185 section width would suggest. And these squeal as well. But, the overall grip levels are certainly better on the Dzire. It can hold higher speeds around bends and with more confidence and predictability. It also has reasonably good steering; it's not exactly very communicative, but it isn't vague or artificial in its feel either.
The Xcent's steering though isn't something that keen drivers will enjoy. It is cold and a tad vague. It isn't slow, if that's what you were thinking. But, it just isn't an involving setup. In fact, the Xcent as a whole doesn't make for an involving car to drive. Of course, it will go around corners, and go around with better poise and grip than a Verna, for instance. It doesn't wallow as much and if it encounters a bump mid corner, yes, it gets upset, but it doesn't throw a fit big enough to scare you. What the Xcent excels at though is low speed, city centric ride quality. The Hyundai has the plushest ride here, and even with load, the ride quality continues to impress. Only the sharpest of bumps thud through.
Decision time. The Dzire finishes third. It feels dated. It scores the lowest for both space and comfort. The engine packs in decent performance but the Amaze does better. It has more equipment than the Amaze, but the Xcent beats it with its significantly longer list of features. The only real reason to buy the Dzire now is Maruti's huge after sales network, and its driving dynamics.
The Xcent has a large after sales network too. And, the car itself has a lot going for it - features, ride quality, a quiet cabin, ease of driving, seating comfort and space. It makes for a lovely car for the city. And there’s no real reason to look beyond this Hyundai in the class of compact sedans, unless you want still more space, still better driving dynamics, still better fuel efficiency and still better performance and highway manners. Because if you do, then the Honda Amaze is just the car.
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